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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 867


Mr DRURY (Ryan) - -This has been a most useful and interesting debate. I join other honourable members in congratulating my friend and colleague, the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner), on his initiative in bringing this important matter forward for discussion this morning. I also pay a tribute to the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) for the thought that he has obviously given to this matter and for the very well prepared amendment that he moved for the consideration of the chamber. Of course, the question before us this morning is not whether the televising of parliamentary debates should or should not be agreed to. Fortunately we are not called upon at this stage to decide whether to adopt such a major innovation. However, it is timely that we do consider whether this measure should be introduced. Of course, the best way to consider it is to refer it, as suggested, to a committee. I was very pleased when the Leader of the House brought forward his amendment to refer it to the Joint Statutory Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Procedures, a committee which I had the pleasure of serving on for some years. It is a most interesting committee. I have no doubt that this committee, assuming that the amended motion is carried this morning, will find its task extremely interesting and will produce a very worthwhile report.

The question of televising a portion of the proceedings of this Parliament can be taken as an extension of the present broadcasting of proceedings because, unlike the House of Commons at Westminster, we have for many years had extensive experience of the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In passing may I say that I am not at all sure that the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings is not too extensive. In other words, we might with advantage be more selective in relation to the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings. We would all agree that many debates are doubtless dull and uninteresting, especially to the listening public. With this in mind I feel that it would be wise if we were very selective in any decision to televise portion of our parliamentary proceedings. It has been put forward already, and I agree entirely, that question time is clearly the period of most general interest to the public because of the variety of topics covered and because of the personal involvement of many honourable members in the chamber on both sides as well as, of course, Ministers who are under interrogation during this period. I am not sure that I agree with the honourable member for Bradfield when he said he thought it would be necessary to amend the Standing Orders to provide for supplementary questions to be asked. Standing order 151 states:

Questions may be asked without notice. At the discretion of the Speaker supplementary questions may be asked to elucidate an answer.

Although I do not gainsay the suggestion that we may, perhaps with advantage, have a look at the restructuring of question time or some aspects of it, I do not think it is necessary to introduce an amendment to enable the asking of supplementary questions. I feel sure that there would be wide public interest in the televising of important debates such as speeches by leading spokesmen on either side in relation to Treasury matters, particularly the annual Budget which affects everyone in the nation. Debates on electoral matters also have a wide appeal. Many foreign affairs debates are very interesting, as are defence debates .and debates on the environment. We could all go on and mention . many other interesting topics that we discuss from time to time in this chamber.

Of course - this is an important pointthere would need to be a fair and reasonable balance as between front and back benchers. It would not be fair for front bench members of either side to hog the show. If Parliament is to be presented as a working whole - I agree entirely with what the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) put forward - the various aspects of a member's work, including the private member's work, must be depicted. The honourable member for Brisbane suggested that the work of some committees might be televised. I do not think that the general public appreciates or understands nearly enough about the work of parliamentary committees. I do not think that the general public realises the amount of research that members must do in the Library and the amount of work that is done in dealing with correspondence, inquiries and visits from constituents. All these matters are of great interest to the general public, but they are not nearly sufficiently well known or understood by the general public. I believe that this suggested form of communication of debates and other activities would help to overcome the present shortcoming.

I believe that parliamentary democracy is best served by a maximum participation by the general public. It is important, in my view, that the electors be well informed on matters of current interest in the national sphere. In the course of each year, quite a number of Australians visit their national Parliament and we are always glad to see them and to welcome them, even though we do not always have the opportunity to meet them. This is the people's Parliament and the more people know and understand what goes on in this, their Parliament, the better it is for the nation as a whole. As the honourable member for Bradfield, and I think other honourable members, pointed out, television without doubt is the most powerful modern medium of communication. Provided the necessary technicalities can be catered for satisfactorily in the chamber without undue disturbance to the House and without inconvenience or discomfort to members, and provided that the television technicians and producers are fair and objective and that the entire televising of the proceedings is under the direct supervision of Mr Speaker, I can see no valid objection to the televising of selected parts of our proceedings. On the contrary, I can see positive advantage both to the Parliament as an institution and to the community in so doing.

Earlier speakers have referred to what has been done in this respect in other countries. I would not agree for a moment to the televising of the entire proceedings of Parliament. I think the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) mentioned that the entire proceedings of the Danish Parliament are televised. I think that this would be disastrous. But I do agree that it would be wise to experiment a little first with closed circuit television, as was done in 1968 at Westminster. Let us not hurry unduly into a decision. Let us be cautious in our approach, because many aspects must be considered. Many points have already been raised in this debate this morning, but there are other points that we have not had time to canvass today. Many points could be raised under the headings, firstly, of desirability and, secondly, of feasibility, including cost.

I am sure that if this amended motion is carried, as I hope it will be, the committee to which the matter will be referred for consideration and report to this House will be greatly assisted by the reports that are printed in the 'Parliamentarian' - the journal of the parliaments of the Commonwealth - to which reference already has been made this morning. The 3 issues to which 1 refer, which con- tain articles and a great deal of data on this matter, are those of October 1966, January 1971 and January 1973. 1 am sure that those articles would be most informative and useful to the committee in its deliberations. I do not know whether there are to be other speakers in this debate; but, in case there are and as 1 am most anxious that this matter be brought to a vote today and that a decision be taken, 1 conclude by saying that I fully support the motion as amended.







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